There has been a flourish of fiduciary rule-related activity over the last couple of weeks. While the SEC and DOL have been very quiet about their progress on a new rule, Massachusetts and other states have been busy prosecuting and formulating their own rules. Now, a new rule has emerged: Maryland is meeting today to decide whether to make a new rule that would compel all brokers (not just advisors) to adhere to a fiduciary standard. A Senator from Maryland says “In Maryland, we’re trying to do our part to protect our citizens from financial abuses”.
FINSUM: The DOL and SEC need to hurry up and get a new rule out, or at least do some handholding with the states to get them to delay their own rules. The leadership vacuum is causing a flourishing of state-based rules which will fragment the wealth management industry. That situation is helpful to no one.
Bank of America just put out a weird warning that caught our eye. The bank—the largest retail bank in the US—said that it may face “substantial costs” as it deals with cryptocurrencies. In its SEC filing, the bank warned that cryptos were one of its risk factors for investors. The bank elaborated, saying “The widespread adoption of new technologies, including internet services, cryptocurrencies and payment systems, could require substantial expenditures to modify or adapt our existing products and services”.
FINSUM: Was this reference to some future risk of business disruption, or does BofA have some exposure to cryptos that is not well understood? Certainly something to pay attention to.
We are entering a period of rising rates. This is a fundamental change from the modus operandi of the last decade and represents a paradigm shift for markets and investors. Therefore, volatility looks likely to stick around for some time. Accordingly, investing in low volatility stocks, which have been shown to perform just as well, if not better, than stock market indices during periods of stress, seems like a good idea. Barron’s chooses the ten lowest volatility stocks on the market, a list which includes Aflac, Coca-Cola, Loews, PepsiCo, Berkshire Hathaway, and Procter & Gamble, among others.
FINSUM: Given the ground shifting beneath investors’ feet, having some allocation to low volatility stocks seems like a wise plan.
Labor unions have long been a hallmark of developed economies. While their power has been on the decline for decades in the US, they are still a principle part of the labor market. Now, with their grip already in decline, they might be dealt a death blow by the Supreme Court. The court is about to hear a case on whether it is constitutional for labor unions to require government workers to fund the unions which represent them. Because of the decline in private sector unions, about half of all US union membership is now held by government employees, so a ruling against mandatory union dues could likely spark the end of American unions as we know them.
FINSUM: The decline of unions has been a complex and long-term affair. Aside from this case, we wonder if the power of unions might increase or decrease as automation takes further hold of the workplace.
Despite a seemingly very hawkish Fed, bond traders just aren’t buying it, according to Bloomberg. Traders think the economy is burning very hot, and that the Fed, despite rhetoric, is actually content to just stick to only gradual rate hikes. According to one CIO, “The bond market is telling the Fed we see rising inflation pressures and if you are going to be gradual and crawl into three more rate hikes this year we are not going to wait around”, continuing “The long end of the yield curve is tightening for the Fed”.
FINSUM: Fed minutes did not show that the bank was considering four hikes this year, and the market thinks they should be.